SVAPAN NĀṬAK, lit. dream play, is an allegorical poem in Braj, comprising 133 stanzas, by Giānī Ditt Siṅgh, a leading figure in the Lahore Siṅgh Sabhā. Published in the supplement to the issue, dated 16 April 1887 of the Khālsā Akhbār, a Punjabi newspaper of which Giānī Ditt Siṅgh himself was the editor, the poem led to a defamation suit filed on 14 June 1887 against the author by Bedī Udai Siṅgh, a nephew of the famed Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī, leader of the rival Amritsar faction of the Siṅgh Sabhā. Although the author claimed that the poem was produced as a text book with the aim of improving the morals of young men as also of enriching Punjabi literature with the addition of a new category of writing, the composition clearly burlesques several of the men belonging to the Amritsar group. The plot, of the Svapan Nāṭak projects the archetypal war between the forces of truth and falsehood culminating in the ultimate triumph of virtue over vice. One of the protagonists of the poem is King Ahaṅkār (i.e. egotism and conceit) symbolizing Rājā Bikram Siṅgh, ruler of Farīdkoṭ state who was the patron of the Amritsar Khālsā Dīwān to which one group of the Siṅgh Sabhā was affiliated. The princely group comprising Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī, Mahāṅt Sumer Siṅgh of Paṭnā, Giānī Badan Siṅgh of Farīdkoṭ, Giānī Sant Siṅgh of Kapūrthalā and others are all referred obliquely and satirically. Giānī Jhaṇḍā Siṅgh an employee of Farīdkoṭ state, is given the appellation of Mittar Ghāt (Slaughterer of Friends) and Bedī Udai Siṅgh who became the complainant in the defamation case, that of Kubudh Mrigesh (Stupid Lion). Khem Siṅgh Bedī himself is referred to in the language of innuendo and given the name of Dambhī Purohit (Hypocritical Priest). The King Ahaṅkār and his friends are pitted against Gurmukhī Jan (i.e. righteous men), allegorically representing Lahore leader, Professor Gurmukh Siṅgh, and his friends.

        The campaign is organized in accordance with a scheme hatched by Dambhī, the royal priest, and approved and blessed by King Ahaṅkār. As the battle begins, Badan Manohar (Body Handsome, ironical name for Giānī Badan Siṅgh) arrays himself against Sat (truth) and Suhird (sincerity) representing Gurmukh Jan, who are assisted by two women called Bidyā (knowledge) and Buddhī (reason). The villain-hero flights for the annihilation of the Gurmukh Jan. According to the plan, Manmukh, translated in the court file as a Devīl's disciple, was to murder the believers : Ignorance was to murder Knowledge. Likewise Folly was to thwart Reason while Kubuddh Mrigesh, the Stupid Lion, was to confound and ensnare the virtuous. The drama has its denouement in the inevitable rout of the forces of evil and the victory of the Truth, Knowledge and Reason.

        A close reading of the poem, however, reveals that it has a complex matrix. It has a polemical end to serve, and here the poet's powers of caricature and lampoonery come into full play. The poem's concern with the larger issue of social and religious reform, the central thrust of the Siṅgh Sabhā movement, is unmistakable. In delineating his moral theme, with its personified abstractions, the poet uses a highly allusive diction bristling with puns on the names of the characters, their appearances and their habitual characteristics. The significance of the poem lies in preserving in its line some of the characters of the early days of the Siṅgh Sabhā and in the amusement it holds as a literary satire, almost without precedent in Punjabi literature. The defamation case decided by an English judge, W.A. Harris, is also a landmark in the cultural history of the Sikhs. While finding the complaint substantial, the judge decided to award Giānī Ditt Siṅgh only a token punishment, obviously impressed by his learning and literary skill.


  1. Daljīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā de Moḍhi Giān Siṅgh Jī. Amritsar, 1951
  2. Jagjīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā Lahir. Ludhiana,1974
  3. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi,1983

Gurdit Siṅgh